As millennial pet ownership rises, so do sales for pet outdoor gear

Whether attracting customers with water bowls and leashes or employees with dog-friendly office policies, the way to a millennial’s heart is through their pet’s.
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Millennials start families later than other generations. In the meantime, they tend to fill the void with something warmer and fuzzier than a newborn. Of the new pet owners between 2007 and 2015, 43 percent were millennials, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts.

That puts the outdoor industry in an ideal position for pet-centered companies like Ruffwear. The Bend-based canine outfitter’s “Every dog is an explorer” motto aligns with the millennial belief that dogs are family. Ruffwear’s average consumer is between 25 and 44 years old, according to Director of Marketing Susan Strible.

About a third of all pet owners are between the ages of 18 and 34. On average, they are 21 upon welcoming four-legged friends into their household — down from 29, the average age of first-time baby boomer pet parents.

“As people get more into outdoor activities, they’re finding ways to bring their dogs with them,” said Strible. That includes long vacations as well as shorter outings, including camping, hiking, and boating. Ruffwear’s life jacket sales in particular have increased in recent years.

Ruffwear's dog boots help millennials bring their outdoorsy canines along for rugged trails. Photo: Ruffwear/Steve Tague Photography

Ruffwear's dog boots help millennials bring their outdoorsy canines along for rugged trails. Photo: Ruffwear/Steve Tague Photography

Per-pet expenditures in general are on the rise. International market research consultancy Wakefield Research reports that 76 percent of millennials are more likely to bust their budget on a purchase for a pet than for themselves. In contrast, only 50 percent of boomers saw themselves shelling out for luxury pet goods.

Ruffwear isn’t the only pet wear provider catching onto the whims of dog lovers. Other companies have also sought to fill the niche that exists where the pet industry and outdoor industry intersect.

“We’re starting to see items that look a lot like our products, and we’re seeing more competition in those areas,” Strible said. Orvis carries dog rain coats, and companies like Kurgo and Outward Hound produce their own takes on the canine backpack.

Retailers without a pet focus can still cash in on the fanaticism by catering to four-legged customers. This could include providing product to fill those wants and needs – anything from durable collars to dog sweaters and raincoats. It could also be as simple as opening the shop floor to pets or providing treats at the counter.

Wakefield’s research suggests that millennials are more likely to take their dogs with them wherever they go — they’re twice as likely as boomers to value portability in a pet and six times as likely to view pet-friendliness at restaurants, for example, as “essential.”

It’s not a stretch to assume the young workforce wants to bring their dogs to the office, too. Increasingly, employers looking to attract new hires are offering dog-friendly facilities.

Dogs bring levity to the Hydro Flask office, which has allowed its employees to bring them to work since it was founded in 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Hydro Flask.

Dogs bring levity to the Hydro Flask office, which has allowed its employees to bring them to work since it was founded in 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Hydro Flask.

“It’s part of creating an environment where people want to come to work,” said Jennifer Freitas, director of people learning and engagement at Clif Bar, where dogs have been invited to work (the corporate offices, not the bakeries where the bars are made) for nearly two decades.

“Nothing starts a conversation like a dog at the desk,” she said.

At Clif Bar, the presence of pets creates community, breaks down social barriers and reduces stress around the office, which in turn leads to a more collaborative and productive work environment, according to Freitas.

The percentage of organizations allowing pets at work doubled between 2014 and 2015, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. Last year, 8 percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resources Management encouraged furry coworkers. Nine percent of employers offered pet health insurance as part of the benefits package.

“It’s definitely a conscious choice about culture on a holistic level,” said Lucas Alberg, marketing manager at Hydro Flask. “It’s part of creating a fun and engaging environment that’s true to our roots and true to who we are.”

Freitas agreed.

“It’s about bringing your values to work,” she said.

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